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Update: A second accuser emerges with misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Also on the Monday rundown: We take you to a state where more than 60,000 kids are chronically absent from school; and we'll let you know why the rural digital divide can be a two-fold problem.

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Bipartisan Effort in Congress to Restore National Parks

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument has more than $1.8 million in deferred maintenance costs, according to the National Park Service. (David Prasad/Flickr)
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument has more than $1.8 million in deferred maintenance costs, according to the National Park Service. (David Prasad/Flickr)
March 16, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – Bipartisan legislation in Congress could begin to relieve the $11 billion maintenance backlog in the national park system.

The National Park Restoration Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., would dedicate funding to infrastructure projects around the country. Last year in Oregon, deferred-maintenance costs exceeded $115 million.

That's something Jim Hammett, former superintendent for the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, understands well. He says visitation to national parks largely is reliant on dependable infrastructure – from roads and parking lots to restrooms – which is why it's important to keep them maintained.

"I certainly think that in many cases,” he says, “there is a limit in terms of how much increase in visitation that most of these parks can take based on just the infrastructure and the assets that are in those parks that are not being maintained, or brought up to current standards."

Trips to national parks have continued to increase in recent years. They saw record attendance in 2016, topping 330,000,000 visitors. That same year, visitors spent nearly $140 million in gateway communities to Oregon's six National Park Service sites.

The legislation has also garnered support from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

The National Park Restoration Act would create a fund for priority maintenance needs, using royalties from energy production on federal lands and waters. Marcia Argust with The Pew Charitable Trusts' "Restore America's Parks" project says a 2017 study commissioned by Pew found more than 110,000 jobs could be created or supported if the maintenance backlog was resolved, including more than a thousand jobs in Oregon.

Argust says the local boost to economies is one reason the bill is getting support from both sides of the aisle.

"They understand that parks preserve our history, and they understand that parks are important for the economics of local communities,” says Argust. “So, I think the outpouring of support from these voices is being heard."

Argust adds visitors nationwide have spent more than $18 billion and supported nearly 320,000 jobs in communities adjacent to national parks.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR